Dayton native Dorian Harewood gets first Tony Award nomination

Actor stars on Broadway in musical adaptation of ‘The Notebook.’

Credit: Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Credit: Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Veteran actor Dorian Harewood is enjoying his comeback.

Crafting a career traversing stage and screen for more than 50 years, the Dayton native is basking in the glow of receiving his first Tony Award nomination for his outstanding leading performance in composer Ingrid Michaelson and librettist Bekah Brunstetter’s heartwarming, tear-jerking musical adaptation of “The Notebook.”

“The Notebook,” co-produced by three-time Tony Award-winning Wright State University graduate Joey Monda of Sing Out, Louise! Productions, opened March 14 at New York’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. In a daring, refreshing twist distinguishing the musical from the popular 2004 film version of Nicholas Sparks’ 1996 novel, the casting unapologetically blends races. As the charming love story of Noah and Allie is told from their late teens to their 70s, three pairs of actors embody the roles.

Older Noah (Harewood) and Older Allie (Tony nominee Maryann Plunkett) are Black and white, respectively. Younger Allie (Jordan Tyson) and Middle Allie (Joy Woods) are also Black. The decision to incorporate color-blind cast casting, a purposeful choice by co-director Schele Williams, a Dayton native, fuels Harewood’s appreciation of the project.

“I’m so grateful to be a part of this production because it’s one of the most unique musicals I’ve ever seen or have ever been a part of,” said Harewood, 73. “The characters are human being. It doesn’t matter what color they are or what size they are. The emphasis is on the human race rather than (someone’s) race. One of the unique things about live theater is that you can use your imagination, and the directors are inviting the audience to see different people play these characters as teenagers, young adults and elderly adults. This is a love story between two human beings, which is why it works.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

In many respects Harewood’s natural narrative ease and incredibly endearing bond with Plunkett is the heart and soul of the production, especially as Older Allie struggles with her dementia. But he admits he came into “The Notebook” cold. He never read the novel or had seen the film prior to his audition but thanks his manager for giving him the motivation to jump-start his career.

“My manager kept pushing me to get off the couch and start auditioning,” Harewood explained. “She said I needed to let people know I was still alive. So, a year ago I began auditioning for things. I auditioned for ‘The Notebook’ and I got the part. I (eventually) saw the movie and I loved it. I did two movies with James Garner, who played Older Noah in the film. And Maryann Plunkett is a genius. We play off each other so very well.”

He also credits his wife, Nancy, for helping him convey the depths of Noah and Allie’s enduring, relatable romance.

“As an actor, I draw on life experiences and observations, and there’s no question I’m (drawing) on my 50-year relationship with my wife, 45 of which have been married,” Harewood said. “And what’s great about ‘The Notebook’ is that it’s lifelike. It’s a real love story with challenges. But through perseverance and dedication to each other, like Noah and Allie, my wife and I have stayed together.”

Esteemed career

Harewood debuted on Broadway in 1971 in the musical “Two Gentleman of Verona,” and went on to appear in “Streamers,” “The Mighty Gents” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He also starred opposite Chita Rivera in the national tour of “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

His extensive film and TV credits include Simon Haley in “Roots: The Next Generation,” the titular role in “The Jesse Owens Story,” Levi Brown in “Sparkle,” and Eightball in “Full Metal Jacket.”

He’s also the recipient of a 1975 Theatre World Award for his portrayal of Clarence in Russell O’Neil’s short-lived thriller “Don’t Call Back,” and a 1994 NAACP Image Award for his portrayal of jazz saxophonist Clarence “Cool Papa” Charleston on the NBC drama “I’ll Fly Away.”

In addition to being the voice of NBC for the past 15 years, he has been the voice of over 100+ cartoon characters and shows including “Christianity: The First Two Thousand Years,” “Hank Aaron: Chasing The Dream,” “Space Jam,” “X-Men: Legends” and “Teenage Mutant Turtles.”

He also continues to sing. As a result of his debut album, he toured with The Four Tops on their European tour and opened for Gladys Knight in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. He has recorded several albums, including “Love Will Stop Calling,” and is working on a new EP and nightclub act.

Looking back on his career, he regards the legendary actress Bette Davis as an influential mentor. He met Davis in 1974 while starring opposite her in the Broadway-bound production of “Miss Moffat,” a musical adaptation of Emlyn Williams’ “The Corn Is Green” directed by Joshua Logan (“South Pacific”). The show closed out of town in Philadelphia when Davis had to drop out due to back problems, but the advice and support he received was impactful nonetheless.

“I wouldn’t even be doing this if it weren’t for Bette Davis,” Harewood said. “I loved singing but she talked me into acting. She said I should think about dramatic acting because my dramatic instincts were similar to hers. Our show closed prematurely but I took her advice and auditioned for my very first Broadway play called ‘Don’t Call Back.’ The show opened and closed on the same night but I won a Theatre World Award and Bette Davis picked up the award for me at the ceremony.”

Humble roots

A graduate of Jefferson Township High School and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Harewood, a product of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, is fond of his upbringing in Dayton. He recalled frequenting various pool halls and was notably encouraged to pursue singing by his voice teacher Josephine Hines. He still has family members in the city as well.

“I am a Daytonian and have great memories of Dayton,” Harewood said. “I had no thoughts at all about acting when I was growing up but I grew up around a lot of music like jazz, Motown and the Beatles. My biggest influence was Motown. I would develop my voice by singing all the Temptations parts: Melvin Franklin’s bass, David Ruffin’s lead tenor and Eddie Kendricks’ falsetto. I had a great childhood in Dayton.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

In addition to recently joining the caricature Wall of Fame at New York’s iconic Sardi’s restaurant, Harewood has garnered Drama League and Drama Desk nominations for his work in “The Notebook.” As the Tony Awards approach, he hopes audiences continue to be moved by the production.

“I’m extremely honored and grateful for the Tony nomination as Leading Actor in a Musical,” Harewood said. “‘The Notebook’ encompasses the entire human experience — sadness, joy, love, perseverance, and overcoming obstacles. And that’s why every human being that steps into the theatre is affected because they have all experienced, at some level, the situations we are showing in this musical. I am working on, what I consider, one of the best musicals if not the best musical on Broadway right now, and I am certainly gratified by the Tony nomination.”


The 77th annual Tony Awards, hosted by Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose, will air live from New York’s Lincoln Center David A. Koch Theater at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 16 on CBS.

For a complete list of nominations, visit tonyawards.com.

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